Friday, October 30, 2009

Spotlight On: U-Min

To conclude our week-long spotlight feature on international crews, we're closing with a look at U-Min from Japan. They've become known for their intricately detailed performances using animation, strobbing, and robot concepts drawn from the popping world. Mainstream America has seen them in Missy Elliott's music video "Ching-a-Ling." But any Youtube search for this crew will call up additional clips of their varied yet entertaining performances. (Photo above is from their facebook page.)

You can visit their facebook page here:

And you can see an older clip of one of their performances here:

In a national culture that celebrates street dance, U-Min stands out among other Japanese dancers for their highly-executed performances and penchant for creating beguiling illusions. Whether it's being playful with slow-motion movement or experimenting with dimestopping techniques that are at the heart of robot and animation styles, this crew paces out their performances carefully. They draw us into their world beat by beat. Each one is a building block to a larger structured performance that gradually envelops our imagination. The scale of U-Min's work is in striking contrast to what many of our mainstream U.S. audiences have become accustomed to in high profile reality TV dance shows - ie, the broader focus on acrobatic tricks that are labeled as eye-catching. U-Min focuses on small movements and carefully timed routines that are less about explosive acrobatics and more about eye-pleasing, magical illusions. And that's refreshing. Already there seems to be a growing trend among U.S. mainstream TV audiences who are getting tired of seeing acrobatic tricks over and over. Wasn't this a criticism for America's Best Dance Crew through seasons two, three, and four? Don't American audiences want to see something different? It remains to be seen if mainstream television will show greater awareness of the variety within street dance culture by allowing other types of crews to showcase.

Another great aspect of U-Min is their paying homage to the showmanship that was characteristic of the original popping generation. Performing on streets, shows, and concerts were part of the lifestyle for poppers in the 1970s and 1980s. U-Min is contributing their own interpretations for the current generation. They've shown that audiences will pay attention and can be mesmerized by popping showcases with clever costumes, illusionary movements, and a nod to our wild imaginations. Whether it's mimicking mechanical toys or loose-limbed puppets, U-Min's body of work suggests the importance for street dancers to continue to develop showcase pieces. Performing for an audience is a crucial training experience as it can teach you how to present your ideas and story execution to others who are seeing the show for the first time. Presentation is key. While you can be technically skilled popper; you will find it hard to connect with an audience if you can't present your moves, character, and execution well. Whether it's performing for an outdoor audience or in a packed night club, performance experience should be part of every street dancer's journey if they choose to expand that part of their craft.

Finally, fans of U-Min can celebrate their use of dimestopping techniques in a popping culture where the boogaloo style, as defined by the Electric Boogaloos, often dominates as the preferred style among a new generation. Isn't it fascinating to see a human being move in slow motion? Or to witness a group of individuals wielding their bodies like mechanical toys? It should be noted that U-Min's dancers are clearly skilled in other styles as well. Although there are predecessors who have pioneered these dimestopping techniques, U-Min and others who employ similar styles show us that the human body holds many possibilities for movement. The fine muscle control needed to create the sudden "stop" in dimestopping techniques isn't easily learned. It often takes as much practice as other highly muscular movements. In the end, we can celebrate U-Min for their exploration of the human body in its smallest details as they continue to dazzle us with their work.

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